Thursday, October 20, 2005

My wife, fresh from reading the Da Vinci Code, demanded to know why I hadn't written it. After all, she reasoned, I knew a great deal more about religious history than Dan Brown and any vaguely literate human could write better than he does. I'm proud enough to agree with the first point but do think that the thriller writers' craft requires more skill than we often give them credit for. That said, pseudo-history sells. The current master of the genre is Graham Hancock who has had his own TV shows and a shelf of books to his name. His latest goes out as editor's choice in History Book Clubs and finds a comfortable niche in the bestseller lists. Of similar ilk are David Rohl (who actually has a PhD in Egyptology) and Graham Phillips. We could add the dedicated band who insist that Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare or aliens visited early man (or aliens wrote Hamlet?!?), the pyrimidiots and our favourite Jesus mythologists. Yes, there is money in these old canards and the latest batch is hot of the presses for Christmas.

Of course, scholars cannot be too smug. Conservative New Testament experts got egg from the ossuary on their faces. Of rather more long term significance was the vast amount that poured from the pens of liberal scholars over the Secret Mark hoax. I'd be surprised if Dom Crossan will ever be able to look in the mirror again.

Would it be morally wrong to write a work of fiction, like the Holy Blood and Holy Grail or Hancock's latest knowing full well that people would take it seriously? I think it is and certainly, if you have to lie during interviews to defend your work, you are on the wrong side of the fence. But in some ways it is tempting. All the boring stuff about sources, evidence and logic can be thrown out for a thrilling story that your readers will enjoy far more. My only hope is that by writing about the way Christianity helped bring about modern science, I can produce a revolutionary narrative that has the added bonus of being true...

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